Thursday / February 29

The Value of Dual Language Programs

General versus special education placement is a decision that needs to be made multiple times in schools. Administrators and teachers need to complete research, discuss concerns, and make an educated decision based on data and assessments in order for a student to be properly placed in the correct learning environment. In my experience, students are often placed in general education classrooms where their needs are not being met due to the difficulty of the curriculum and the enormous class size. Special education classrooms have fewer students which allow the teacher to focus more on the individual and plan lessons more accordingly to their needs. However, students with dual needs, such as having a learning disability and being an English learner, need to be looked at closely in order to see which learning environment is best for them.

In this case study, Ms. Perez, a hard-working and well-respected bilingual seventh grade teacher, was approached by her administrator who wanted to move two native Spanish speaking students from her bilingual, general education class into a self-contained, English-only classroom for children with learning disabilities. Both students were labeled third year English as a Second Language (ESL) students who possessed highly developed oral language skills but had limited reading and writing abilities. According to research, English learners with special needs should be placed into dual language programs and be kept in the program for its period in spite of their special needs in order for them to obtain literacy skills in two languages to the level they are proficient. Furthermore, there is no evidence representative of educating English learners with special needs in English-only programs results in greater achievement in English (Genesee and Lindholm-Leary, 2010).

Dual language programs are defined by the Center for Applied Linguistics as programs that “provide literacy and content instruction to all students through two languages” as well as endorsing “bilingualism, grade-level academic achievement, and multicultural competence for all students” (Camacho, 2010). Since there is no evidence supporting any benefits of having English learners with special needs in English-only, special education programs rather than dual language programs, the administrator in this case study should not suggest placing the two students from Ms. Perez’s general education class into an English-only, self-contained classroom for students with learning disabilities. This suggestion may actually have a negative effect on the students’ reading and writing abilities.

As another example, my friend moved from Iraq to Michigan when he was in the 7th grade. He knew absolutely no English, but was driven at a young age to be successful. The Lamphere Schools had a dual language program where English learners were able to learn in an environment where both languages were present. My friend is now fluent in English, Arabic, and Greek, and has earned his master’s degree in theology to become a priest.

Most dual language programs are found at public elementary schools, and many continue on through middle and high school. Ms. Perez’s dual language program would be considered a two-way (bilingual) immersion program since there is a balance of native English speakers and native Spanish speakers. In this program, students receive language arts instruction in both languages, practice new language skills with peers, and the learning process starts with student interests (National Dual Language Consortium, 2010). Two-way, dual language programs continue to demonstrate immense promise for the educational and linguistic success of language minority students, and for the development of literacy for all children. This approach emphasizes equal opportunity for both English and non-English-speaking students through a learning process that validates and completely develops both languages (Texas Dual Language Education). “Two-way, dual language programs serve as vehicles for positively impacting educational and social change and eliminating the academic achievement gap that currently exists between our English and Spanish speaking children” (Texas Dual Language Education).

In Ms. Perez’s dual language program, she can differentiate instruction to meet the needs of her English leaner students with learning disabilities. There are many school and community resources for teachers that would be helpful in teaching students with learning disabilities. By law, teachers must provide accommodations and modifications to students who have a disorder that affects how their brain receives and processes information. The goal of assisting students with learning disabilities is for them to obtain the intervention and support they need to allow them to be successful in school and later in life. As a colleague, I would recommend to Ms. Perez to use the following interventions: mastery model, direct instruction, and classroom adjustments. The mastery model allows students to learn at their own level and practice until they gain the fundamental skills to move on to the next level, and direct instruction allows for highly structured instruction in a short amount of time, the opportunity to correct mistakes immediately, and grouping students based on achievement levels. For classroom adjustments, these students are going to need special seating assignments in the front of the classroom, modified testing procedures, and a quiet environment when doing independent work (National Research Center on Learning Disabilities, 2007).

Ms. Perez also had a plan for a parent education program in order for parents to also be able to help students in their dual language program. If a student with learning disabilities goes home to an environment where no English is spoken, they are going to progress a lot slower than a student who goes home to an environment where their parents are bi-lingual. In order for a dual language program to work correctly, parents need to be educated alongside their students. This will create a professional learning community (PLC) that will benefit the school culture and enhance the learning in the building. When the community is connected to the school, there will be success for all students.


Camacho, Rossana. “How Imagine Learning English Complements Dual Language Programs.” 2010. Imagine Learning. November 11, 2010. <>.

Genesee, F. and Lindholm-Leary, K. “The Education of English Language Learners.” 2010. San Diego County Office of Education. November 11, 2010. <>.

“National Dual Language Consortium (NDLC).” 2010. November 11, 2010. <>.

“National Research Center on Learning Disabilities (NRCLD).” 2007. November 11, 2010. <>.

“Texas Two-Way Dual Education.” No Date. November 11, 2010. <>.

Written by

Mike Lerchenfeldt is a Science and Informational Literacy Teacher in the Chippewa Valley Schools. Alum of Oakland University and Saginaw Valley State University. Member of the Michigan-Shiga, Japan Student Exchange Committee. Taught in New Zealand through a teacher exchange program. Dedicated to student success. Enjoys being an active member of the community. Blogger for Digital First Media writing mainly about education. Mike blogs at The Light Bulb. You can connect with him on Twitter @mj_lerch.

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